It was the last game of the girls’ singles final at the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Badminton Tournament 2019.
Defending champion Happy Serena Cheng Sin-yan, who won the first game but lost the second, was down by four points, while her opponent was only one point away from snatching the winner’s title.
Many of Happy’s supporters thought it was time for her to concede defeat, but the Diocesan Girls’ School student knew it wasn’t over yet.
She climbed back up the scoreboard, point by point, until she and her opponent were tied at 20-20.
For her last shot, Happy cleverly chose a long, high serve; her opponent failed to return the shuttlecock over the net. With that, the DGS player took the last game, 23-21, and was crowned the girls’ singles champion for the second year in a row.
“When I was losing 16-20 in the third game, I only thought about handling each point well and told myself to enjoy the competition. This way, I was able to calm down and minimise the mistakes I made,” she says.
One of the tactics Happy uses to keep her cool is to slow down the pace of the match; she pauses the game with shuttlecock changes and water breaks, which gives her time to her clear her head, as well as distract her opponent.
Many people are dazzled by Happy’s confidence during nerve-wracking moments such as in the Jing Ying final. The 16-year-old says it’s all thanks to her painful defeat at the 2019 Badminton Asia Junior Championships held in Suzhou (蘇州).
The Hong Kong representative was vanquished in a match in which she had an eight-point lead. Her opponent’s ability to turn things around became an important reminder to Happy that “everything is possible on the court”.
“[If] my opponent could come back from behind like that, I know there is always a chance to win, as long as I don’t give up,” she says.
Having a positive mindset is indeed key to Happy’s success in badminton, but so are fitness and technique.
The player has been striving to improve her physical strength to match up to the level required in women’s singles matches, in which rallies are becoming longer and longer.
To achieve that, Happy now trains 17 hours a week at the Hong Kong Sports Institute with the junior national team, but she wants more.
Rather than having to juggle schoolwork and training, the Form Five student hopes to devote more time to badminton, especially since being given more opportunities to compete overseas in recent years.
Right now, she has to take leave from school every two weeks, which has taken a toll on her studies.
She says her school allows her to arrange make-up classes, but not long after she catches up, she is off again for another tournament.
As a result, Happy has made up her mind to become a full-time player after taking the HKDSE next year.
“I decided to take this path a few years ago, but because my parents wanted me to finish secondary school first, I have to wait,” she says.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t want to wait.”
Happy hopes that by joining the senior team, she will have a chance to showcase her talent at top-tier competitions.
Unlike many budding athletes with long-term ambitions, Happy only wants to concentrate on her goals for this year.
Her first task is to do well in the selection trials on Thursday and Saturday, which will determine who gets to take part in two international junior competitions in February and March.
“There is only one spot up for grabs, but I really hope I can make it,” she says.